While scoliosis usually starts to develop during puberty, it is not unheard of for the condition to arise far later in life. We frequently treat elderly scoliosis sufferers here at the Scoliosis SOS Clinic, and whereas our younger patients usually have what's known as idiopathic scoliosis (a progressive spinal curvature with no apparent cause), scoliosis in older people almost always occurs as the result of another, underlying condition.
Very often, that underlying condition is osteoporosis.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones that commonly occurs in later life. As we age, our bones naturally lose mass and become more fragile, although this process happens more quickly in some people than others. You are particularly at risk of osteoporosis if:
- You are going through, or have already experienced, the menopause (reduced oestrogen levels often lead to a rapid decrease in bone mass, particularly when the menopause occurs before the age of 45)
- You have a very low BMI
- You drink and/or smoke heavily
- You don't get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet
- Osteoporosis runs in your family
- You don't get enough exercise
- You have had your ovaries removed (e.g. due to ovarian cancer)
- You have been taking certain medications (such as corticosteroids) for an extended period of time
Symptoms of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis doesn't have any symptoms in and of itself, but it is problematic because weak bones are far easier to break. Reduced bone mass can easily be identified via an X-ray or DEXA bone mineral density scan; however, many osteoporosis sufferers remain unaware of their condition until they break a bone (usually a hip, wrist, rib or vertebra).
Increased risk of fracture isn't the only issue that can arise due to osteoporosis. When the bones in the spine lose their strength and density, the spine can begin to slip into a curved position as it becomes too weak to support the weight of your upper body. This is how many osteoporosis sufferers end up suffering from hyperkyphosis
(a forward curvature of the spine) or scoliosis
(a sideways curvature of the spine).
Treating osteoporosis and osteoporosis-related scoliosis
Once osteoporosis has been diagnosed - and again, this often doesn't happen until after the patient has suffered a fracture - the condition can sometimes be managed using medication that helps to strengthen the patient's bones. Doctors may also recommend dietary/lifestyle changes to help slow the deterioration of the bones, and certain measures can be taken to reduce the risk of a fracture (e.g. removing household hazards that may result in a fall).
When scoliosis arises as the result of osteoporosis, it can be treated in a number of different ways. Some patients will undergo surgery to correct their spinal curvature, but it is usually possible to manage the condition with physical therapy - eliminating the need for surgical intervention.
Located in the City of London, the Scoliosis SOS Clinic treats scoliosis and hyperkyphosis sufferers using the ScolioGold method (a combination of specially selected non-surgical treatment techniques). Click here to see the results that this approach can achieve for elderly patients, or contact Scoliosis SOS now to arrange a consultation.